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Renewed V-Mart feels 'like Superman' at dish

Tigers would benefit from veteran's lefty production if he can manage bum left knee
MLB.com @beckjason

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Victor Martinez was one of the early-bird position players in the Tigers' clubhouse Monday. He couldn't shake the feeling he was late.

"It's the first time in my career I didn't show up with pitchers and catchers," he said wistfully. "It felt weird."

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Victor Martinez was one of the early-bird position players in the Tigers' clubhouse Monday. He couldn't shake the feeling he was late.

"It's the first time in my career I didn't show up with pitchers and catchers," he said wistfully. "It felt weird."

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Martinez hasn't been a semi-regular catcher since 2011, his first season as a Tiger. He has caught five games over the last four years.

But he still thinks like a catcher.

His locker at Joker Marchant Stadium sits next to current Tigers catcher James McCann, where Alex Avila's locker was. Martinez kept a catcher's mitt for years in a cubby hole. He used to catch bullpen sessions in Spring Training, even if just to help ease the burden on catchers in camp.

He can't catch anymore, not even as a hobby, and he accepts that. He's coming to grips with age after turning 37 in December. Last season was a harsh reminder he can't outthrow or outrun Father Time. He certainly can't do the latter with his left knee.

"You know that age is going to come and get you at some point," he said. "You don't feel normal. You get sore here, sore there. ...

"You have to make adjustments. You have to know your body. You know when you need to start changing some of your routines here or there. I wish I could feel like I was 23, 25, but it is what it is."

Video: CWS@DET: V-Mart crushes two-run shot for No. 200

He doesn't want to dwell on the past, especially his lost 2015 season trying to play through the bad knee. He wants to look forward. And if he can get his legs back under his swing, he might be able to outhit Father Time for a while longer.

When the switch-hitter picked up a bat this offseason and resumed swinging, testing the left-handed swing that betrayed him last year, he didn't feel like an old man.

"I started swinging pretty early this year," he said. "I felt like Superman."

It's early, and hitting in the cage is an easier test than Spring Training pitching. But if he can get that left-handed production, it could be the biggest addition to the Tigers' lineup.

Detroit has a projected lineup of impressive hitters, but Detroit needs a productive left-handed bat from Martinez. When his left knee didn't rebound from the meniscus tear last February, it doomed him from the left side, evidenced by his .219 (77-for-351) average and .616 OPS against right-handed pitching. By contrast, he hit .348 (31-for-89) with an .870 OPS off lefties.

"It was the worst year of my career, no excuse," Martinez said. "I tried. I played. It is what it is. I had a bad year, but you know what is the great thing about it? It's over.

"We have a brand new year, so nobody remembers what I did in 2014. Nobody remembers what I have done in my whole career. Everybody lives today, day by day, game by game. In this game, it's about consistency, day-in and day-out consistency. We have to be able to do that."

Age challenges consistency. Playing through bad days, sore days, becomes tougher. That's where his catcher's mentality comes in. That's where healthy knees would help.

"I can tell the difference," he said. "Way different than last year, that's for sure."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Detroit Tigers, Victor Martinez